Mafikeng 500 round four preview

The Oven Fresh Biscuits 500, round four of the SA Off Road Championship for Production and Special Vehicles -- presented by Absa -- takes place in the Mafikeng area on July 25 and 26 and for many teams a good result will be crucial if they hope to...

The Oven Fresh Biscuits 500, round four of the SA Off Road Championship for Production and Special Vehicles -- presented by Absa -- takes place in the Mafikeng area on July 25 and 26 and for many teams a good result will be crucial if they hope to get there championship campaign underway.

Such has been the dominance of the Proudly South African Nissan team in the Production Vehicle category, with Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke winning six events on a trot, that few believe that any of the other teams will get a look in.

However, the pressure will be on Grobler and Leeke to pick up another overall win and consolidate their position at the top of the championship log. They can expect stiff competition from team mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan and reigning champions Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith as well as the other Class T contenders Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger and Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser.

De Villiers and Jordaan last won on the 2002 O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel 500 and finished second on the recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race while Woolridge and Skjoldhammer have been out of the winner's circle since the 2001 Carnival City Casino 400. Reyneke and Houghton have had their fair share of bad luck and can boast of only one victory in eleven events, which was on last year's Barberspan 500.

Class T championship contenders Scott Abraham and Richard Carolin have had a consistent run all season in the Atlas Copco / Chicago Pneumatic Jeep and could well spring a surprise and finish on the podium on the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

The hectic pace in Class T this season has seen an high attrition rate, which has allowed the Class E fraternity, lead by Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i, to sneak in via the back door and grab the remaining places on the podium.

Cronje and Birkin finished third overall on the Nissan Dealer 400 and third on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and a fourth overall on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 sees them lying second overall in the championship and only 11 points behind Grobler and Leeke. A non-finish for the Nissan pair and another podium finish for the Castrol Toyota crew will result in a Class E vehicle leading the championship for the first time.

Former Class E champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham (Team Ford Racing Ranger) have been on the podium once this season when they finished 3rd overall on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. However they blotted their copybook by not finishing the Toyota 1000 Desert Race.

Veteran Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie in the Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE finished fourth overall and second in Class E on the Nissan Dealer 400 and fifth overall and third in Class E on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and could show the youngsters a thing or two in the North West Province.

The Class D brigade have been somewhat overshadowed by the Class E fraternity and it was only on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race that they came to the fore with Shumie van Vuuren and Carlos de Abreu finishing fourth overall in the Chibuku Toyota Land Cruiser. The Botswana crew has not entered the event so it will be left to a gaggle of Toyota, Nissan, Land Rover and Mitsubishi teams to fight it out.

Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers can always be counted upon to put up storming performances in the Class D Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser but unreliability problems on the first two events and a collapsed suspension on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race are cause for concern. If they are able to overcome the reliability problems they could well end up on the podium.

The N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser made its debut on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and proved to be fast and reliable. Father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt could spring a surprise but will have to contend with a horde of Nissan Hardbody pickups spearheaded by the four car GBS Racing Team.

Former Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo are consistent performers and have finished second in Class D on two occasions this season and a class win is now long overdue for the GBS Nissan crew. Teammates JP and Linda Augustin finished second in Class D in the Western Cape but failed to finish in the next two rounds of the championship while Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber have a fourth and sixth place finish to their credit.

Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege have only managed to finish one event and this they did in fine style by winning Class D and sixth overall on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody. The off road motorcycle star has made a seamless transition from two to four wheels and can be expected to mount a major challenge on the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

On the Mitsubishi front father and son Johan and Marthinus van der Merwe won the class in the Western Cape and picked up two fourth places in the Chavani Colt Rodeo. The Harrismith based pair are fourth in the championship and quite capable of picking up another class win but not if Alex van Rooyen and Theuns Visser have anything to do with it. They have only managed to finish once this season but have shown excellent pace and could well show the rest of the Class D challengers the way home.

Marius van Vuuren and Chris Mare in the Alberante Land Rover and brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat in the Forsdicks Land Rover have had a dismal season with mechanical gremlins forcing van Vuuren and Mare into retirement on every event this year and the Moffat brothers only managing to finish in Botswana.

Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych in the O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chev are the lone entry in Class F for two wheel drive Super Trucks. They managed to complete 800km of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and were in with a good chance of a class win in their debut season when the starter burnt out.

There have been three different overall winners in the Special Vehicle category this season.

Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl won the Nissan Dealer 400 in the SAM Racing Jimco and failed to finish on the next two events. Makgekgenene enjoys the terrain in the North West Province and lead last year's O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel 500 but a wrong slot within spitting distance of the finish allowed Gerhard and Laurence du Plessis to slip past and win by a mere 12 seconds.

KwaZulu Natal crew Gerald Mundell and Billy Bond (Prolong BAT) scored a maiden win on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and then went on to finish fourth overall and third in Class A on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which places them two points behind championship leader Giel Nel and nine points ahead of their closest Class A rivals John Moore and Fred Werner in the Shell Connix Chenowth.

After two non-finishes John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt came from behind to win the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in the O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco and based on current form must be one of the favourites to win the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

Last year's winner Gerhard du Plessis will be teamed up with his wife, Kobie. Du Plessis, with brother Laurence, won four of the eight events last year and the husband and wife pair finished fifth on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 after a troubled run in the Liebherr Jimco. Du Plessis is a formidable driver and victory on home turf would be an historic occasion in that it would be the first time that a husband and wife team wins a South African Off Road Championship event.

The BAT Racing challenge has been diluted after the Toyota 1000 Desert Race where two of the vehicles were heavily damaged, which leaves early race leaders Brandon Harcus and Gary Bertholdt, Danie Marais and Andrew Utterson and Mundell and Bond to fly the flag. The BAT's are lightweight, powerful and handle superbly and Mundell's results and Harcus and Bertholdt's performance in Botswana augers well for the South African constructor.

The Nashua Mobile Racing team has had a season it would rather forget. Terence Marsh and Trevor Ahier haven't finished an event this season and have been plagued by a variety of problems on the supercharged Mitsubishi V6 powered Jimco. Last year's Toyota 1000 Desert Race winner Greg Daus and Archie Rutherford failed to finish in the Western Cape and in Botswana a narrowly missed winning the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in the twin turbo Mitsubishi V6 powered Chenowth.

Just as in the case of Class E where a number of teams pose a threat to the Class T brigade in the battle for the Production Vehicle championship, the Class B contingent presents the biggest threat to the Class A competitors in the Special Vehicle championship race.

Four Class B teams have finished on the podium this season and beaten many of the hi-tech Class A vehicles.

Former Class B champion Giel Nel leads the Special Vehicle championship in the Luk Africa Truggy after finishing second overall in the Western Cape and fourth overall in KwaZulu Natal but was devastated by his retirement from the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which was only his third in five years of racing.

Reigning Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain finished fourth and third overall respectively in the first two rounds of the championship but, disappointingly, were forced to retire their Rollerbak Racing JRE in Botswana. They won their class on last year's event and can be expected to mount a major challenge for the Class B win and a possible lead in the overall championship.

Former production vehicle driver Andrew Birkin made the switch to a special vehicle at the start of the season and finished third overall on the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Wingfoot. Birkin finished fourth in Class B on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and lead until just before the midway point on day one of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race before being slowed by a puncture and later being sidelined by a broken gearbox.

Francois Smit (Franic) finally finished an event this season and he did it in fine style by finishing third overall and first in Class B on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race.

Based on their performances to date Nel, Taylor, Birkin and Smit are all quite capable of causing a major upset on the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

Class S has lacked support in the first three events of the season but with five top rated entries for the upcoming event the Class S championship leaders Nic Goslar and Glen Steyn (O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) and Mohammed Noor and Mohammed Moultsen (Superveg Raceco), who trail the leaders by ten points, can expect some stiff opposition from Frikkie Botha and Melville Priest in the Sandton Off Road Accessories Raceco and Zeyn Noble and Richard Hope in the Raceco.

The Oven Fresh Biscuits 500, gets underway with a 42km Prologue at 12:45 on Friday, July 25 with the main event, which comprises two laps of a 224km route, starting at 08:00 on Saturday, July 26.

-msa-

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Alfie Cox , John Moore , Richard Hope , Duncan Vos
Teams AT Racing